God’s War by Kameron Hurley

God's War: Bel Dame Apocrypha

I won’t lie: I did have to work a bit at this book. It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy it; actually every time I picked it up I loved the way it was written. But, it did take me a while to lock into the world Hurley has created. After I’d finished it, I may have had a little sigh of relief at successfully negotiating the bug-filled lands of Umayma. It turns out that for me God’s War is one of those slow-burn books – I’m more and more impressed with it the more I think about it. I’ve gone back to some of the most pertinent parts, and bedded in some of the world-building. Now, I’m itching for the second part in the trilogy.
God’s War is the first part in the Bel Dame Apocrypha. The Bel Dames are a group of assassins whose targets are deserters from the never-ending war between Nasheen and Chenja. They are seriously tough and scary women. Nyx is one of the best, but her predilection for doing off-the-books work makes her a target herself. In some frenetic action during the early chapters of the book Nyx is hunted, captured, and imprisoned by her fellow Dames.
A lot of characters, setting, and history are given in this first short section; I did go back and read it twice in the end to get my bearings. The second section pushes forward eight years and picks up Nyx’s story. Now an outcast from the Bel Dames, she’s put together a team to head her own private bounty hunter agency. She’s good at what she does, and it’s her proficiency that gets her dragged into a political power struggle. Summoned by Queen Zaynab to track down and retrieve an alien visitor with sensitive information, Nyx is put in the middle of a treacherous situation; her best bet is to trust no one…no one at all.
Everything in Nyx’s world is framed by the war. It seems interminable, consuming generation after generation of young men. No one seems especially sure what it’s being fought over, although religion and territory look like good bets. The main factions, Chenja and Nasheen, have developed very different cultures. Chenja is more familiarly traditional, with a male-dominated hierarchy, whilst Nasheen is aggressively female-dominated. They are not the only two countries, and we get hints about Mhorians, Ras Tiegans, and Heidians. The different peoples are described as different races, and they have distinct features that allow them to be easily identified.
This can cause difficulties, even within Nyx’s own team, as crossing borders is not a simple matter. Added into the mix are shifters, who can change form and are viewed with deep suspicion. There are also magicians who can manipulate insects, and are also healers. Bug technology is everywhere. The magicians also run the Nasheenian boxing gyms, where women slog it out for cash and glory.
Hurley has created a chaotic world, full of unstable loyalties, political machinations, religious conflict and violence. She has also carved out a small space for love, between siblings most noticeably, but also in some romantic relationships. It’s good to read a range of relationships, including same-sex ones, without it being a major plot-point. The most unlikely relationship is between Nyx and Rhys; it’s deeply passionate, chaste, often one-sided, and most likely doomed.
Now I’ve done the groundwork I’m really looking forward to book two. Infidel is scheduled for release in May. There’s a lot to ponder, especially the political and religious aspects of the book. I think that God’s War was definitely worth the effort I put into it, as I’ve gone from feeling a bit confused and ambivalent to actively wanting to recommend it. And do you know what, that makes me feel pretty happy!
God’s War is available now from Del Rey in paperback and eBook. The publisher sent me copy, which was jolly nice of them.

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